By Mike Deak
AKRON – The fate of Tippecanoe Valley this season is anyone’s guess, even for head coach Chad Patrick.
After his team muddled through a 1-5 first month of the season, the team felt like it was hitting rock bottom after a 25-point whipping at Manchester, the Vikings sitting at 2-11 and looking for answers. But after a bounce back home win the next day against Winamac, Valley won four of its next five, including two Three Rivers Conference triumphs.
In the mini run the Vikings have made of late, the team is scoring over 53 points a night. In its first 13 games, the Vikings only hit that mark four times. Since Jan. 30, Valley is 5-3.
Valley (7-14) once again will compete in the Class 3-A sectional at West Noble, where it will try to conjure up the magic it had in 2019 when it won a title at Wawasee. And for the eighth time in the past 11 years, the Vikings will have to go through Wawasee, the two playing in the lone game Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Ligonier. Valley has won four of those seven meetings, including the sectional championship in 2019.
The Vikings have won 10 sectional titles overall, but the 2019 title ended a six-year drought, which predated a three-peat from 2005-07. NorthWood is the defending champion heading into West Noble’s tourney, the Panthers waiting for either the Vikings or Warriors in the semi-final Friday night. Lakeland and West Noble renew acquaintances in the northern half of the five-team bracket.
Valley’s rebound likely has a lot to do with Paul Leasure finding his scoring stroke. The shooting guard played in just one game before New Year’s Day due to an injury, and despite a pair of solid scoring nights against Northfield (23) and Whitko (18), both were losses. However, Leasure has hit double digits every night out in the five-game stretch Valley had starting with the Winamac contest, including 13 in a gritty win over Columbia City and 25 to keep Valley around against Maconaquah, a game the Braves hit 17 threes.
Nolan Cumberland has scored in double figures in all but four of his appearances, averaging close to 13 points per night to lead the team. His 20 points helped the Vikings to a win over Caston and 11 points were crucial in a 34-28 grudge match win over Plymouth.
Dawson Perkins has been huge, figuratively and literally, for Valley. The 6-7 junior post has six double-doubles, including back-to-back shows against Northfield and Plymouth that had him pull down 30 rebounds in the two games. Three of his six double-doubles came in wins, and all but three of his games has seen him pull down at least six rebounds.
Brendyn Stump and Braden Shepherd are both offering five or more points per contest, and the Vikings as a whole have 12 players who have seen at least seven games of varsity action.